Dummerston gets updates on non-profit tax lawsuit

Saturday June 15, 2013

DUMMERSTON -- No matter how a legal battle with a Dummerston nonprofit turns out, the town is likely to get some cash out of the deal.

That's the word from Dummerston attorney Bob Fisher, who wrote that Southeast Vermont Learning Collaborative administrators -- who are suing in an attempt to win tax-exemption -- are willing to make an annual donation even if they lose in court.

"The amount of the donations would represent 30 percent of the town assessed tax valuation," Fisher wrote in a letter to the Selectboard.

The collaborative, which offers professional-development classes to teachers, purchased its Route 5 headquarters in November 2011. But the town's board of listers, citing legal advice, has denied the collaborative's request for tax exemption.

Last year, Selectboard members thought they had negotiated a settlement whereby the nonprofit would make an annual payment in lieu of taxes. But the state ruled that agreement invalid because it was not timely and did not follow the proper appeal process.

With no further attempts at resolution -- and with the town Board of Civil Authority recently denying tax-exempt status again -- the collaborative has sued Dummerston in Windham Superior Court Civil Division.

Fisher said the town has until July 8 to file a response.

In a potentially time-saving matter, Fisher said he and the collaborative's attorney expect to file a list of agreed-upon facts to streamline the legal process.

"The town and SEVLC would file cross motions for summary judgment, and the judge will decide ... the legal issue of whether the property is tax-exempt or not," Fisher wrote. "I believe this will allow for timely and fair resolution of the matter without incurring added legal costs."

Regardless of the case's outcome, though, the town attorney said the collaborative expects to contribute some funds to Dummerston for the long term.

"I have been provided assurances by the attorney representing SEVLC that, should it win the lawsuit and be granted tax-exempt status on the property at issue, SEVLC intends to provide yearly donations" to the town, Fisher wrote.

The 30-percent figure cited by Fisher is only slightly less than last year's Selectboard-collaborative agreement, which called for the nonprofit to pay 33 percent of its grand-list value each year.

At the time, that equaled a contribution of nearly $2,500.

A majority of Selectboard members said they are content to allow the court process to play out.

"We ended up inadvertently prolonging the process (last year) by interjecting ourselves, trying to meet with officials of the collaborative," Selectman Bill Holiday said.

"I wouldn't mess with this process at all," he added.

In other recent Dummerston Selectboard business:

-- The board reviewed an application by Green Mountain Power, which is seeking a state Act 250 permit for a $400,000 power-line project along Miller Road.

The utility proposes relocation and reconstruction of 6,580 feet of overhead electrical line, documents show.

"The proposed work will allow for the retirement of off-road utility line corridor that is aging and in need of replacement and reconstruction of aging utility line corridor that currently exists along Miller Road," Green Mountain Power's Act 250 application says.

"The proposed work would create a more-accessible line location and increase the reliability and restoration time for customers served in this area," a representative of the utility wrote.

The project is expected to take six to 12 months. Easements have been obtained from affected property owners, the application says.

-- Selectboard member Steve Glabach said construction has begun on the new Renaud Gravel Pit, which is expected to serve Dummerston and Putney for decades.

The pit, which will be located off Route 5 near Hidden Acres Campground, recently received an Act 250 permit from the state. That was the final regulatory hurdle before construction could proceed.

"The Renaud pit is being worked on -- significantly being worked on," Glabach said, adding that the work has included tree-clearing and construction of an access road.

-- Glabach praised the members of Dummerston's emergency-management team for their performance during the June 5 Vermont Yankee emergency-response drill.

"After speaking with one of the observers, it became very apparent how seriously each member of our team took their responsibilities," Glabach said.

"The professionalism of that team is exceptional," he added.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.


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